Kingly Mercy: Psalm 72:1, 12-14; 103:8-12
Mercy is the imitation of God’s compassion toward his creatures. God often treats his creatures with forbearance when they have sinned, and in understanding of their weakness. He grants them good things in life, and relief from suffering, simply because it pleases him to be kind to what he has made. Scripture speaks of God’s mercy in many places, such as Psalm 40:11; Psalm 103:8; and Jonah 4:2.
As with justice, we’ll highlight the fact that kings were to show mercy in at least two arenas, beginning with international relations. On an international level, kings applied mercy to those nations and people who submitted to the God of Israel. For example, in 2 Samuel 10:19, many vassals of one of Israel’s enemies received mercy from David when they made peace with him. And in 2 Samuel 10:1-2, David showed compassion to the king of the Ammonites.
Moreover, Old Testament prophets foretold that the Gentile nations would eventually submit to Jerusalem. They would bring tribute to the capital city of God’s kingdom, and receive mercy and protection from God’s king. These things are prophesied in places like Isaiah 60:1-22 and 66:18-23, Micah 4:1-8, and Zephaniah 2:11.
Of course, as we’ve seen in our discussion of justice, God doesn’t always want to show mercy. And sometimes he demanded that the king withhold mercy from wicked nations. For example, in 2 Samuel 5:17-25, God instructed David to destroy the Philistines, which David did without mercy. Their evil was so great that they were not to be spared. So, part of the king’s responsibility was to discern when God would have him show mercy, and when God would have him withhold it.
Besides showing mercy in international relations, the king was also responsible to administer God’s law by showing mercy on a national level. Because the king was God’s vassal, he was required to treat God’s people in the same way that God would treat them. And this meant treating them mercifully. As we read in places like Hosea 6:6, God wanted his people to show mercy even more than he wanted the sacrifices required in the law. This is not because God’s law is unimportant, but rather because mercy is one of the more important matters of the law. For this reason, a merciful king was an ideal leader, one who imaged God’s own pattern of care. David exemplified this in places like 2 Samuel 19:18-23, where he showed mercy to enemies that submitted to him.